14.03.2011 - 16.03.2011 23 °C
I ended up being awake for most of Sunday night. I managed to get asleep by about 11pm but unfortunately woke up again at 1am and spent about an hour just sitting there. I think my body was telling me that the 12 hour sleep I had the night before was too much! In order to try and get myself tired I went on the internet in the main lobby of the hostel. Randomly I ran into Richard and Veronica, two Norwegians who had been on my Fraser Island trip last November. Blast from the past! I have a lot of fond memories of that three day trip so it was great having a catch up. I certainly didn't expect to run into them again. An hour later I finally went back to bed. It felt like my alarm had gone off literally five minutes later. I checked my phone and it was 6.30am, time to get up...
The bus picked us up an hour later and off we went. The first stop was Mount Eden which I had done the day before with Emma. I didn't mind stopping again though due to the view and the weather was a lot sunnier. I was surprised to find that the bus was only half full - apparently though it's low season and the Christ Church incident isn't helping. I was wondering why my bus trip around the country had been reduced from $1,200 to just $499 (roughly 260E)! After that we travelled for a good bit and passed by a small town where we stopped off to try L&P, New Zealand's own brand soft drink, otherwise known as Lemon and Paeroa. An obligatory photo was also taken beside the largest statue of the bottle in the country. The drink itself was quite sugary and had more of a lime taste to it than lemon. Good to try but wouldn't be a huge fan I have to say.
Our next stop then came at the much anticipated Hobbiton Farm. From there we were able to go on a tour of the movie set for the upcoming film The Hobbit, due out in Christmas 2012. The village is identical to that featured in the first Lord of the Rings movie. It was very surreal and a bit like being in a section of Willy Wonka's Chocolate factory - everything was just far too colourful and perfect. It's so peaceful and beautiful out here though it was easy to see why Peter Jackson picked it as one of their filming locations. I also got to see some of the set that will feature in the new films but I'm not allowed to upload pictures of that!
Following that we were taken back to the main farm hub area where randomly, we were shown a sheep being sheared. I always pictured the farmer shaving the wool off as the sheep was standing up. The reality is the sheep is dragged out and turned on its back and then its stomach as it's sheared. It looks like quite an awkward process and apparently it can take up to four years for a farmer to perfect this method. The poor sheep wasn't too impressed initially but seemed alright by the end of it and no doubt happy to be a bit cooler given the hot weather outside.
I got into Rotorua by 6pm that evening. The first thing I noticed was the smell... rotten eggs! There is sulphur in the air but thankfully it was nowhere near as bad as what I experienced in Tokyo a few years ago at the hot springs. I didn't have to hold my nose this time - it's only when you breathe in quite deeply that you can get a really strong smell for it. I've been here the past three days now and I'm barely noticing it anymore. That evening I had dinner with an English girl and a Swedish lad I had met on the trip that day who were also travelling alone - we played some cards and then got into the hostel's main unique feature - a hot thermal pool! At about 40 degrees it's a pretty nice way to finish off the evening before bedtime and I've made it a nightly tradition since.
Tuesday was spent enjoying two of New Zealand's eco-friendly outdoor activities. The first one was the Zorb ball. I had only seen pictures of this before my travels and wasn't too familiar with it. Basically, you're driven up to the top of a large hill where you climb into a huge rubber ball which is within another ball separated by a metre or two. They then throw a couple of litres of water into it. They release it and you tip yourself over the hill. From there you can sit back and enjoy what is essentially a waterslide mixed with a rollercoaster. I really loved it but my only gripe is that it was over too soon. It's not cheap either costing twenty Euro for thirty seconds but it was just about worth it for the experience. They should have offered discounted prices to go again, I definitely would have done it.
Once I had dried off and changed I headed to the Luge. The last and only time I have done this was in Singapore way back at the start of my trip in the beginning of October. Essentially it's a downhill go-kart without an engine. It's a lot of fun and fairly cheap so I decided to take the gondola (a ski lift style ride) up the mountain and do three different rides down the tracks i.e. scenic, intermediate and advanced. Scenic is what you'd expect, fairly straight forward, quite long and with some nice views. Advanced was mental, you have to pull back on the breaks a lot of the time or you'll crash quite badly. I played it safe and made it down in one piece.
Today I decided to do some local sightseeing. I booked a tour of the Buried Village which is a small town area that was covered in lava due to Mount Tarawera erupting. It happened in 1886 and is New Zealand's greatest natural disaster. You can walk through the village where a lot of the buildings have been preserved in time. There wasn't too many mind you and it was slightly disappointing given what I was expecting. The scenery made up for it though with a massive waterfall near the village that you can a walk to. Once we had finished our driver who is a Maori (with Scottish ancestry) took us up to see Mount Tarawera and was only too happy to tell us a range of stories from around the time. The Maori people are well known for being good story tellers - this guy is 71 years old (he looked no more than 60) and full of life, smiles and laughter as he recalled tales of his ancestors. Oh and Kia Ora is the native word for hello. It's nice to know where the name of that drink I lived on in the 1990s came from!
Rotorua is quite a nice town but definitely a bit too much on the quiet side for me. I'm not sure if it's due to low season but it all seems a little dead here. Everything shuts down really early and you can walk through the 'city centre' (I can't believe they call it that) at times without seeing anyone. The hostel I've been staying in is one of the cleanest and most comfortable (Kiwi Paka if you're wondering) but at best is only 30% full. Aside from a gang of rowdy American girls who arrived in a tour group yesterday you could practically hear a pin drop! Hopefully I'll get a better atmosphere at the next place I'm staying at. Having seen a little bit of the countryside so far it's safe to say already that New Zealand is the most picturesque country I have ever visited - the South Island is the part everyone talks about so I can't wait to see it in person. Tomorrow enroute to Taupo promises to be quite exciting - indoor cavetubing in the dark followed by the skydive...